The national NAACP is “outraged” that Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has ordered a review of the College Board’s Advanced Placement African American studies course, which is only in its first year of existence.
A spokeswoman for the governor said Youngkin made the request on Feb. 23, three weeks after the College Board released its updated course framework to make several topics and authors “optional.”
The vice president of the NAACP chapter at the University of Virginia told The Daily Progress on Monday the UVa group stands with the national organization’s opposition to Youngkin’s call to review the course.
“Governor Younkin’s action is an attempt to erase the experiences and contributions of Black people,” NAACP President Robert Barnett Jr. said in a statement released Friday. “When Black children cannot see themselves and their experiences reflected in the history of this country, their humanity is diminished, and it leaves them vulnerable to attack.”
In 2022, Youngkin passed Executive Order 1 with the intention of ending the “use of inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory, and to raise academic standards.”
The AP African American studies course aims to analyze the history, culture and contributions of people of African descent in the U.S. and throughout the African diaspora, according to the College Board, the nonprofit organization whose Advanced Placement Program provides high school students access to college-level courses.
State Education Secretary Aimee Guidera is conducting the commonwealth’s review of the course.
“The governor and I are committed to restoring high expectations and taking the time to review and ensure that our course offerings prepare every Virginia student for success in life,” Guidera told The Daily Progress on Monday. “[I] will review the AP African American Studies Course – as we do with all policies, programs, training, and curricula and continue to do so – to ensure that our students are being taught how to think, and not what to think.”
Involvement in AP courses varies from state to state. The Virginia Department of Education does not determine which AP courses schools offer, rather public school divisions choose the courses that will be made available to their high schools. The commonwealth’s education department does, however, determine the standards of learning and curriculum at public schools.
Youngkin’s 2022 executive order requires the state education secretary identify and remove “inherently divisive concepts” – specifically highlighting critical race theory – that appear in Department of Education policies, best practices, training and websites, as well as any curriculum in any of Virginia’s public K-12 schools.
Additionally, the order prohibits public school executives from encouraging students to independently learn “inherently divisive concepts.”
The order also requires that the education secretary ensure that Virginia’s public school Standard of Learning assessment scores align with those in other states and details plans to create more governor’s schools, which provide gifted education and advanced content to able Virginia students.
This year, the pilot version of the AP African American studies course is available at 60 public schools in the U.S. Pilot students will not be tested on the course material until spring 2024.
The College Board plans to expand AP African American studies to hundreds of additional high schools during the 2023-24 school year and will offer the course to all American public high schools for the 2024-25 academic year.
“After numerous reports about draft course content, the governor asked the Education Secretariat to review the College Board’s proposed AP African American Studies course as it pertains to Executive Order 1,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter told The Daily Progress on Monday.
The College Board opted to make some of the curriculum optional or strip them entirely, including the topics of reparations, intersectionality and Black queer studies, after the Florida Department of Education called the course “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value” in a letter to the board on Jan. 12.
The College Board released its revised version of the curriculum on Feb. 1 – the first day of Black History Month – with newly optional pieces of the curriculum that will apply to the 2023-24 school year, when the course is made available to all public high schools in the U.S.
In a letter to the Florida Department of Education on Feb. 8, the College Board said its selection of topics was based on “feedback from educators, disciplinary experts, and principles that have long shaped AP courses” and that Florida’s list of concerns about the course held “substantial educational value.” The letter also clarified that the board did not remove any Black scholars or authors from the course.
The College Board called its revision of the course “a standard part of any new AP course” but acknowledged in a summary of its changes that there was “an overall reduction in the breadth of the course.”
“We believe every student should have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the facts and evidence of the African American experience, regardless of where those students live,” the College Board said in its letter. “This course has a great deal to offer to students from every background, and it is particularly resonant for African American students.”
The College Board has said it plans to expand the course availability in the 2023-24 school year and expects it to be available to all interested high schools starting in 2024-25.